When push came to shove, $1.7 million in funding for the Fast Track Land Bank Authority was included in Senate Bill 608.
Initially, the House passed version of the bill did not include the funding, but the Senate passed version did. Gov. Rick Snyder reportedly wanted it in the bill as well. The decision on the land bank funding and several other differences between the House and Senate regarding Senate Bill 608 were decided in a six member conference committee.
Rep. Joe Haveman, R-Holland, House Appropriations Committee chairman and member of the conference committee, said that as the issue was negotiated he agreed to allow the $1.7 million for the land bank authority to be part of the bill.
"We are still working to solve the problem of blight," said Rep. Haveman, whose background is in homebuilding and real estate. "I was willing to go along with this one. What we need to do is ask ourselves, 'Do we have a better idea?' "
Land banks around the state have been involved in corporate welfare deals that did not pan out. They've also blocked properties from private citizens and selectively subsidized housing for favored government employees.
In Kent County, the land bank has used connections with local governments to grab properties in advance of free market auctions. In doing so, it has been circumventing the intent of the law, which requires that potential private sector purchasers get first choice of tax reverted properties.
"I definitely don't want to see land banks playing the role of private buyers," Rep. Haveman said. "But right now there are many properties that the private market won't pick up. In my mind before we can make the argument against using land banks, we need to come up with a better suggestion."
The key decisions regarding appropriations bills, such as Senate Bill 608, which is a quarter of a billion dollar supplemental budget bill for the state's current fiscal year, are made in conference committees. After a bill has been reported out of a conference committee, it can no longer be amended. It goes to the Senate and House where straight up-or-down votes are taken on the overall bill. The final version of Senate Bill 608, of which the land bank authority funding was only one budgetary adjustment, was passed by the Senate on a 30-5 vote and by the House on a 106-2 vote.
"While it might seem like a small amount, this $1.7 million surely could have gone toward a better purpose instead of propping up land banking," said Audrey Spalding, director of education policy with Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a national expert on land banks. "It is unfortunate that the House's effort to constrain land bank spending failed."
Those representing the Senate on the Senate Bill 608 conference committee were: Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Roger Kahn, R-Saginaw; Sen. John Moolenaar, R-Midland; and Sen. Glenn Anderson, D-Westland. Those Representing the House were Rep. Haveman; Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville; and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit.